Bruges, deriving from the old Dutch word “bridge”, is located in the North West of Belgium, within the Flemish region.
Bruges is said to have been founded as a settlement during the Bronze and Iron ages, and some of the first fortifications built were by Julius Caesar.
Bruges is certainly a crown jewel of Belgium, with so much packed in and around the old town for travellers to enjoy.
A great way to start your trip and see the amazing medieval architecture and the charm of the city is to take a canal tour. On a beautiful sunny day, this can be very relaxing and informative as most canal operators come with a guide to tell you about the history of this charming city.
Costing €10, there are several spots to embark from across the old town.
You won’t be the only one enjoying a ride along the canals, as they are filled with swans that are leisurely going about their day.
The old town within Bruges has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000. This historic centre has plenty of the gothic medieval style architecture that stands out throughout the city.
The Belfry of Bruges is a well-known Bruges image. This medieval bell tower sits in the centre of the historic Market square and originates back to 1240. The Belfry has fallen victim to fires multiple times throughout history, however it was always rebuilt as a symbol of the success of the city.
At 83 meters high, it is one of the tallest points within the historical centre, and of course what city doesn’t take advantage of this and offer it up to tourists to climb for scenic views of Bruges. A ticket will cost you €12 and depending on the time of the year the queues can be long. 366 steps later you’ll find yourself at the top. Being a small place, you’ll have the opportunity to take in the full city from this view.
As mentioned before, the Belfry of Bruges is part of the historic centre within Market square. This area has been the site of festivals, fairs, tournaments, executions and even uprisings throughout history. This is where local people would gather to socialise and buy and sell their goods.
Thankfully there are no executions held anymore, and Market square is a place where you can find a bite to eat, grab a drink, people watch, or start a walking tour of the city.
Sometimes when I travel, it isn’t always about seeing every site there is within a city or region. Another important aspect is trying the local food, and Bruges is well known for its….CHOCOLATE!
That’s right, if you are a chocoholic like me, you will not be disappointed with Bruges. Belgium is quite small, however it contains over 2,000 chocolatiers, and Bruges is home to many of these.
I decided to take a tour of Choco-story, a chocolate museum that gave a great background into the history of chocolate making within the region. It also had some amazing sculptures made from chocolate, as well as a chocolate making demonstration and a tasting session at the end. This will cost you €9.50. There are several other chocolate shops around the city if you want to try as many of them as you can!
Another bit of traditional (not healthy, obviously) food found in Bruges is French fries with mayo. They are usually served in a cone and are a great snack to have while walking around the city. There are plenty of shops selling them, so you won’t struggle to find one if you are peckish. And of course, to finish off my segment about food, there are Belgium waffles. Not specifically known from this region, these snacks are a big hit across the world and Bruges offers many opportunities to tick off the goal of eating Belgium waffles in Belgium with countless toppings of your choice.
Now back to the sights. There are two important religious sites for you to visit, beginning with the Church of Our Lady, Bruges. This Gothic Church dates back to the 1200s, and has the second tallest brickwork tower in the world, with amazing intricate detail all over the church making it a beautiful backdrop as you walk around the canals.
The other important religious site in Bruges (although there are many other great churches to see too) is the Basilica of the Holy Blood.
Promoted to a minor basilica in the Catholic Church in the 1900s, the Romanesque Gothic style architecture dates to 1157. It holds a vial containing a cloth, which is believed by many to be soaked in the holy blood of Jesus Christ, brought back to Flanders during the Crusades in the 12th century. Entry is free, however to see the treasury museum will cost you €2.50.
Sint-Janshospitaal is an 800 year old… well hospital (St. John’s Hospital) that has helped many pilgrims and the poor. It is the oldest hospital in the world, and only stopped acting as a hospital in 1977.
For €12 you can tour the chapel, wards, dorms for the monks and nuns, and storage rooms of vials and medicine equipment used throughout the middle ages.
One amazing find that I came across isn’t usually found within the guide books. Most visitors to Bruges stay within the old historic centre, where the majority of hotels are located. I stayed in the area of Sint-Kruse, which allowed me to find Kruispoort Gate when entering the historic centre.
Kruispoort Gate is the best preserved 15th century city gate in Bruges.
Just north of this gate there is a lovely bit of parkland that runs along the canal, where you can walk, run or cycle. It also contains Bonne-Chiéremolen, Sint-Janshuismolen, and Koeleweimolen, which are three windmills that were built in the 1700s and used to grind grain.
Being such a small city, I highly recommend taking a walk around the entire city, as well as ducking in and out of all the small side streets.
You never know what you’ll come across sometimes. From Jeruzalemkerk – a 1400s church modelled after Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre – to the Groot Handelesdok, a lock for smaller boats to come into from the Belgium coastline. There are so many buildings with great details and colours, which you can take some snaps of as you explore.
When you travel around Europe, you notice a lot of cities sell lace. If you love a good trinket to take home, then go no further than the lace. There are heaps of shops specifically dedicated to lace in Bruges, as this city was famous for its lace making in the early 1900s.
One final stop for alcohol loving adults is the 2Be Beer Wall and Cambrinus BierBrasseire. 2Be Beer Wall is a bar that has a feature wall containing 100 Beer bottles on it. They do plenty of tasting trays for you to try a variety of different beers (Belgium and international), with views out over the canal.
Cambrinus BierBrasserie is a multilevel beer house that serves several hundred types of beer. You will be spoilt for choice. They have anything, from traditional dark lagers to beer that tastes like strawberries.
Bruges is easily accessible by walking or cycling if you are staying in the middle of the city. For those staying further outside there are buses that go throughout the city to make the journey quicker. However, they are not very frequent, so the choice is yours.
Bruges is a charming, stunning city that will certainly fill a place in your heart and your stomach. Spending a couple of days in this jewel of Belgium will certainly be something you’ll remember for years to come and never regret.